From Publishers Weekly
Moscow correspondent Meier (Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall
) tells a remarkable story about Cy Oggins, a Columbia University undergraduate who joined the fledgling Communist Party in 1920. Recruited by Soviet intelligence in 1926, he went to Europe in the guise of an academic; his residences acted as centers for Soviet espionage. After 1930 he sailed to China and Manchuria for various undercover schemes, then traveled to Moscow in 1939 during Stalin's purges. Despite long, loyal service, he was arrested and sent to an Arctic gulag and despite frantic pleas for Oggins's release from his wife, and more modest U.S. government efforts, the Soviets murdered Oggins in 1947 to keep his story from getting out. In Soviet archives, Meier saw a heavily censored fraction of Oggins's 162-page file, supplemented by the FBI's massive records, compiled thanks to J. Edgar Hoover's lifelong fixation on Communists. These files plus the author's extensive research have produced a rich account of American communism's early years as well as the bizarre, tragic odyssey of an American who devoted his life to serving the U.S.S.R. 16 pages of illus. (Aug. 11)
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An impressive history detective, Meier unearths the story of Isaiah Oggins (1898–1947), an American attracted to communism and enlisted in 1928 by the Soviet Union’s intelligence services. From Oggins’ enrollment in Columbia University to his execution, Meier traces Oggins’ odyssey of ideology and espionage with thoroughness and evenhandedness. What Oggins did as a Soviet spy seems opaque––though Meier patches together his likely tasks in Berlin, Paris, and China––but more visible is the reaction of Americans who encountered Oggins after he disappeared into the clandestine Red world. One was the intellectual Sidney Hook, whose memoirs describe a chance meeting with his former friend in Berlin. Other Americans to record sightings of him were diplomats in Moscow, who in 1943 attempted to obtain Oggins’ release from the gulag and repatriation to the U.S. Explaining to Oggins’ living son how that effort failed, as well as the fate Meier discovered that Stalin personally ordered for Oggins, supplies intimate emotional force to this account, which is an original chronicle, another personal tragedy, in the deadly literature about Stalinist espionage. --Gilbert Taylor
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